Cheap Homeschooling With Composition Books

This post is about cheap homeschooling with composition books.

Don’t let lack of money keep you from homeschooling! Learning does not have to be complicated and expensive. If you have enough money to purchase some composition books, and basic school supplies, you’re in business!

Besides a recent video on this subject (which is linked at the end of this post), I actually wrote an extensive post on this subject and published it a few years back. It includes a link to a gallery of different ways we have used our composition books. I am reposting it below–I hope it gives you loads of ideas and encouragement!

How to Homeschool With Composition Books

If you’re looking for a low-cost, low-stress way to homeschool, why not try composition books? I know they aren’t impressive by themselves, but with just a few ideas, tips, and directions they can become the best way to give your children a top-notch education!

You see, these are not like workbooks. Workbooks are pretty much worthless once they are filled out. There really is no value to going back over them.

Composition books are more; they are actually learning keepsakes.

When a child holds a composition book in his hand, he has the feeling he is creating something that will last. The covers are hard and durable. The pages are actually sewn in, meant to stay and become permanent (unlike a spiral notebook where the pages are meant to be torn out).

When a person takes the time to copy, or write, or draw and explain or display thoughts that are her own, it is meaningful. This sort of work should be put on a shelf so that later it can be gone over again. It should be pulled out from time-to-time and shared with friends and loved ones.

It also helps us as moms when we can pull out one of their books and see physical evidence there is real learning going on in our home.

So, how does one go about it?

First of all, we need supplies. Not huge dollar-item supplies. Just about $20 or $30 does just fine for our current group of five children.

I am writing this during the fantabulous back-to-school supply sales, which makes me want to cheer! Really and truly, the supplies I need for my children are so cheap right about now.

I am buying:

Composition books. Of course, but I not only purchase the regular type, but the “other” ones, with a half-page left blank for a drawing and the ones filled with graph-paper.

Pens and pencils. I use mechanical pencils because they are more convenient. I use bulk bags of Bic pens because they write so smoothly. I make sure I purchase black ones because they are so useful for outlining drawings, and blue ones because this is the color I normally use when setting the books up for the younger ones (more on this later).

  • Highlighters. The fat-tipped ones are extremely useful for creating primary pages and pages for penmanship.
  • Coloring pencils and crayons. 
  • Watercolors and watercolor paper. There are times when you want something a little bit more refined.
  • Markers. These would normally be useless because they bleed through, but we have the option of using index cards for our illustrations, so there are no worries!)
  • Index cards. These are essential for eliminating frustration since they can be written or drawn on and then glued on a page (or glued in on top of a mistake). I also like to use them for writing out specific directions for a book and then stapling them inside the cover.
  • Glue sticks. Great for everyday pasting of index cards and other papers.
  • Rubber cement. This is best for making sure anything glued in is also smooth.
  • Scissors. 
  • Manila envelopes. Not a must but nice to have for pasting inside as a “pocket.”
  • Clear tape. The type for packing boxes. The heavier the better.
  • Duct tape. Assorted colors are nice for using on the spines to differentiate one type of book from another, or to identify one child’s books from another’s.
  • Sticky notes. This is great for leaving little love notes or extra instructions for book pages.

After you have the supplies, you can begin to decide just what types of books you will create. Here are some ideas:

“Everything” books.

This is a great idea if you are just starting out and have a lot of children to corral keep track of. Each child is given his/her own book and does all the work you assign, such as dictation and copywork, Bible, math, penmanship, and notebooking, on consecutive pages. Instead of having numerous books that you have to stack and shuffle around, you only have one per child.

Books per subject and/or interest.

This has been typical for us. One book is generally for McGuffey reader and grammar work. Another one is for math. Still another is for “content,” which we do as notebooking projects.

Here is a partial list of the different books you could create:

  • Bible journal
  • Math workbook
  • Nature journal
  • Record-keeping
  • Penmanship
  • Storybook
  • History notebook
  • Timeline
  • Books on one area of interest, such as horses or spaceflight
  • Science notebook
  • Geography notebook
  • Narration journal

Next, you need some guidelines, rules, and regulations.

Even though these books mean a lot of fun, they can also seem intimidating, especially for younger children. First of all, there are so many pages to be filled, without any clue of what to put where, that it makes them seem daunting.

Secondly, the fact that they are so permanent feeling makes one tremble with fear at possible mistakes.

Here are some ways to counter both:

  • Make places for where things must go.

For little children, this often means you are going to be writing before they write. Begin by using a highlighter and creating primary pages. What does that look like? It means you are going to color in every-other line to create “primary pages” like these:

For beginning readers and writers, this means you are going to take a few moments to tell them where to put things:

For older, more independent learners, you could make up some cards like these and staple them to the inside cover of the composition book:

What can they put in their notebooks? Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Math problems
  • Bible verses
  • Narrative drawings
  • Diagrams
  • Maps
  • Copywork
  • Narrative writing
  • Dictations
  • Grammar exercises
  • Graphs and charts
  • Lists of books, chores, favorite movies, etc.
  • A scrapbook of photos from special projects
  • A collection of specimens
  • A timeline
  • A recipe
  • A story
  • Some riddles
  • A planner
  • A song
  • Printouts of important information from the Web
  • Poetry
  • Experiment data
  • Plans for inventions
  • Sports stats
  • Make provision for potential mistakes.

Having a child do their work first in pencil helps, especially for drawing.  I also keep stacks of index cards and bits of plain and lined paper that can be glued in or over something that is amiss.

Here are a few more hints:

Use different-colored duct tape, washi tape, or labels to help quickly identify the composition books, either according to subject or person. I created labels on this stack by printing out a sheet of multi-colored flowers, cutting each out, and then using clear tape to put them on the spines of our books:

Some really unorganized creative children don’t necessarily know they need to fill notebook pages in sequence. It may be good to write the page numbers in the corners and create a table of contents at the beginning of the book.

We use our composition books as an extension for:

  • Math texts and concepts
  • McGuffey’s readers
  • Gentle grammar
  • Science books and all the rabbit trails they take us on
  • History novels and all the rabbit trails they take us on
  • Literature being read independently
  • Foreign language
  • Art studies

Now, I know you are looking for more photos to help clear things up even further (I know I would be), so we have created a gallery of photos for you to enjoy. Just click on the picture below:

If you are looking for more inspiration, be sure and watch the video below:

Cheap homeschooling with composition books

6 thoughts on “Cheap Homeschooling With Composition Books”

  1. Thank you this was very helpful!! My little guy likes to use these for nature walks so I am sure this will be a much better option for his math work too!!

  2. We did this with a regular notebook last year using a McGuffey’s Reader. It was very easy and effective, and my child that was using it enjoyed making her own book.

  3. Dear Sherry, I always find myself on your blog in the summertime, looking for fresh encouragement as I plan for the coming school year. When re-reading this post, I remembered a question I meant to ask you last year! In one of your photos, you have pretty labels on the front of your composition notebooks. Can you share where you found them? Thank you!

    • I actually made them myself, I think I used Canva, but I can’t remember. You could easily make them yourself, though. I didn’t print them out on sticker paper, I simply printed them out, maybe six to a sheet, and then cut them out and used clear tape over them.

      Hope this helps!


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